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Overcrowding plagues Pursat prison, officials say, warning of illness

Overcrowding plagues Pursat prison, officials say, warning of illness

PURSAT PROVINCE

The province's prison population has risen 33 percent in the last

month, exceeding capacity and creating an immediate need for new cells

PURSAT'S provincial prison population has leapt 33 percent to 233 inmates during the last month, officials said Monday, warning that severe overcrowding was threatening the health of prisoners.

"This month the number of prisoners has increased and rooms that are equipped for five people are now being used to hold seven. This prison should only ever hold 180 prisoners," said provincial police chief Ngoun Lay. "The rooms used to hold them are only two-metre by three-metre, and holding seven people is too many."

Ngoun Lay says he is worried that overcrowding will harm inmates' health and that prison guards have increased exercise hours to try and combat this risk.

Medicine is also being dispersed more frequently than before, as many prisoners succumb to colds and flu.

He added that an additional building is in the works, but will take months to complete.

Eng Chhunhan, provincial coordinator for the Cambodian  rights group Licadho, said he was also concerned about the overcrowding, saying that many prisoners are suffering from poor sanitary conditions.

"This situation is not good.  During the night if they want to turn over all of them have to turn at once," he said.

Khlem Sokoun, chief of the Pursat Health Department, said the prisoners' health was being compromised in such conditions.

"We have allowed our staff to visit them in prison for treatment, but this is dangerous for us and my staff are at risk of being kidnapped by the prisoners and used as hostages," he said. "We are trying to decide if it is best to treat the prisoners in jail or transfer them to the hospital."

Chea Vannath, an independent social analyst, said the rapidly-rising prisoner population indicated an unacceptable level of lawlessness that must be  addressed.

"When there is an increase in the number of prisoners it ... is often because they are neglected individuals who suffer from a poor standard of living and social problems," she said.

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